Just In Bailey: The Lost Art of Passwords

Video games have gone through many different eras.  From the Stone Age of Pong to the Renaissance Age of Super Mario Bros. to the Hi-Def Age of today.  I come from the Renaissance Age.  I come from a time when games were difficult on principle.  My time saw no trophies and endings were a simple “Thanks for playing.”  It was also a time without hard drives, memory cards, or cloud saves.  You had few choices when playing a game.  Either you beat the game in a single sitting, prayed that the battery back-up didn’t delete your save (which it did without fail near the end of whatever game you were playing), or you made sure you wrote down the password you were given in order to continue in the same state you left off.

Passwords are a strange thing.  Look at this column’s title.  “Justin Bailey” was a password in Metroid that allowed you to play the game as Samus Aran without her suit.  A simple name revealed the game’s biggest secret.  Many games used them to drop the player in the same relative level with the same amount of lives and items.  The set-up of the password differed from game to game.  Some would have a string of characters, sometimes 20 or more.  Others, like Mega Man 2, would resemble a bingo card.  They were an art form.  Abstract, maybe, but an art form nonetheless.

As a kid, passwords were a blessing and a curse to me.  In Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, getting to Iron Mike was a huge challenge as you had a limited number of chances.  There were intervals every 3 or so fights where Little Mac would run in a very stylish pink jumpsuit while his fat manager rode a bicycle in front of him through New York.  These segments would end at the Statue of Liberty and provide the player with a password.  Or you could just input a certain password and jump straight to Kid Dynamite himself.  He would beat you senseless over and over and over again.  The punishment was frustrating.  But, with that password you had a quicker way of getting to him.

Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest also had a password system.  As a pseudo-RPG, the game would have been better served with a battery back-up.  It was a hard game.  The enemies were tough.  You could travel for hours without figuring out where to go next.  And then the darkness would come.  Oh the darkness, when “it [was] a terrible night to have a curse” and the enemies went from being difficult to being near-impossible.  Konami was kind enough to provide a password to give you all of Dracula’s body parts, maximum life and the strongest whip available and drop you at his front door.  It may have skipped you ahead, but, trust me when I say that the game was difficult enough to warrant the skip.

Another cool thing about passwords was that they could be anywhere: magazines, instruction manuals, even found hidden in the games themselves.  It was also a cool feeling if you found one out yourself.  They could put a new spin on a game and increase the replay value.  They were also a cool thing to share with friends.  It was a lot easier to bring a piece of paper with some numbers scribbled on it than to drag your hard drive and have to switch it out and remember to bring it home again.

Passwords are a lost relic in gaming.  What was once a necessary way to save your progress in a game has shrunk to just being a simple cheat code.  I know they’re cumbersome and there was little rhyme or reason or even an easy way to remember them.  To me, it’s a nostalgia thing.  Like the really bad action movies of the 1980s, it’s just fun to go back to a simpler time when something didn’t require rhyme or reason.  I don’t think they would work so well today seeing how complicated games are now.  However, I do owe the password props for helping me name my column and being a cool part of my childhood.  They may be a lost art of gaming, but that’s what makes them so special.

Just In Bailey –an homage to the secret code from Metriod, which allowed you to play as Samus Aran without her suit– is an editorial column at Vagary.TV brought to you by Joey Alesia. Each week Joey will challenge you to look at a different perspective of the characters, gameplay, and/or plot in your favorite games. Chat up your thoughts below, or send Joey an e-mail at Joey.Alesia@vagary.tv

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Author: Joey Alesia View all posts by
Joey's adventure into the realm of video games began at 3 when Nintendo first hit the West. He grew up a Nintendo fan and ended up branching out to Playstation when FF7 hit and XBox when Oblivion hit the 360. He's not huge on first person shooters or sports games but definitely enjoys a good RPG or survival horror game. His all-time favorite series is definitely The Legend of Zelda, followed extremely closely by Metal Gear. Joey has a firm belief that games should be treated with respect when they are made and that the classics should never be overlooked.
  • KingOfIllinois

    My fondest memory of passwords doesn’t really involve passwords at all in the literal sense. I remember playing the game Zillion for the Sega Master System. The entire game involved traversing a massive underground labyrinth, moving from room to room finding passwords and entering them into a computer to move on to the next room. The game was simple at first, but became brutally hard once sentry guns and conveyor belts came into the mix, let alone guards that had the ability to crouch or lay prone to shoot. When you got to the end, you had to enter a passcode into the central computer to initiate a self-destruct which only allowed you a certain (short) amount of time to make your way back to the entrance before the entire labyrinthine base exploded, killing you in a ball of fire.

    It was a relatively short game if you knew where you were going, but could become ridiculously long if you got lost… and there was no way to save your game. I remember leaving the system on for days on end and pausing when I had to go to school.

    I had a notebook full of passwords comprised of strange symbols that I only later realized were numbers mirrored on their lefthand edge to look like some strange, foreign symbol. Good times…